The Grazing Theory:
- What they did: The researchers pooled together 15 randomized, control trials comparing men and women who ate three or fewer meals per day, with those people who ate greater than three meals. The studies were all greater than two weeks in duration, had pre- and post-study body composition testing, and were done in adults over the age of eighteen.
- What they found: The researchers discovered there was absolutely no effect of meal frequency on bodyweight. Likewise, there was no improvement of body-fat percentage with increased meal frequency. In summary, they stated “our analysis does not support a tangible benefit to eating small frequent meals on body composition.” Enough said.1
Let’s take this a step further. It gets worse.
A recent study published in the medical journal Hepatology described a trial where they wanted to participants to gain weight. (Yep, not the best study to be a part of.) They compared eating three square meals per day with eating multiple meals in a diet with a caloric surplus. The results were eye-opening. The group that ate with higher frequency gained significantly more body fat, in particular belly fat, but also gained significant fat in their livers (at exactly the same caloric intake).2 When your body is storing fat in the liver, your health is seriously compromised and you’re at much greater risk of chronic disease.
Eat More, Less Often:
If we go back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, they would have gone many hours, many days, even weeks between meals. How did they survive without a protein bar snack or eating every 3-4 hours? The answer is simple; your body is designed to shift gears from burning carbs to burning fat (i.e. metabolic flexibility). But modern eating patterns are completely hijacking this ability. The result is being stuck with unwanted and persistent weight gain.
Once again, the solution is to stop snacking; get back to eating three square meals, like your great grandparents. Here are some quick tips on how to survive the first week, without chewing your arm off or screaming at your colleagues or loved ones.
Drink coffee. The caffeine in coffee inhibits the PYY appetite hormone in the gut, naturally supressing appetite. It’s remarkably effective. The problem for most people, is they drink their morning coffee before or during breakfast. The best strategy is to hold off until after breakfast (perhaps when you get into the office) to grab your cup of java. Remember, no added sugar in your coffee. If you’re not a coffee-drinker, go for black or green tea.
Afternoon Sugar Cravings
The AM snack is quite easy to cut out; most people find it much easier than they initially thought it would be. The afternoon snack can be a little more difficult. For most people, you’re coming down from your morning caffeinated high, a blood sugar dip from lunch, and a natural, circadian low. This is the three-headed monster that makes you crave sweets!
I’m a big fan of drinking a green tea in the afternoon (2:00-3:00pm), as it contains a touch of caffeine to suppress appetite. It also provides an amino acid (i.e. L-theanine) which relaxes the nervous system, so it’s not as stimulating as coffee. You can also go with an herbal tea, or drink more water to get you through. Distractions like walking around and scheduling meetings are also very helpful. And of course, don’t keep snacks in your desk.
You’ll likely have cravings for a few days, but then they will subside. This will let you know you’re moving in the right direction. If your cravings last for more than 4-5 days, you’ve been really overdoing it, and you’ll just have to “grin and bear it” a little longer.
The Late-Night Couch Snack
This one is the toughest for a lot of clients. After a long day, you finally kick your feet up on the couch and, just like Pavlov’s dog, it triggers your brain to instantly crave a reward: something sweet. Much like the PM snack, the cravings will subside after a few days. Once again, a simple herbal tea can work wonders (just don’t overconsume, as you may be getting up in the night to pee!).